Sunday, 31 March 2013

Behind the Bedroom Doors

In previous posts I've commented on the work of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Their books made no pretence towards literary merit; they were totally and unashamedly commercial. Written in the nineteen thirties, they treated sex in a subtle way that titillated the reader, but omitted the finer details of what happened behind the bedroom doors. I think a few modern day writers could learn something from that. I believe the blatantly uninhibited sex scenes that mark out too many current novels detract from the action.

I have this in mind as I look at a series resurrected from the depths of my computer, something I started years ago. These are hard-hitting, gritty crime stories written in a style I imagine Chandler or Hammett would use if they were alive today. The crimes are to the forefront in the stories, the sex is keep in the background. That’s because the plots are essentially about the crimes, not the characters’ sex lives. That’s not to say they don’t have sexual encounters, they do, but I try to keep it in proportion. I’ve given some information on the books at:

I suppose a well-known writer could get away with vivid descriptions of the sex act, even if it is unnecessary to the plot. To my mind Sebastian Foulkes did it in Birdsong and it didn’t work for me. But he’s a famous writer. My advice to lesser known writers is to keep your eye on the ball. If you want to write erotic sex scenes, do it within the covers of erotica novels. If you are writing for any other market, keep your action centered on your main plot.

However, one area on which Chandler and Hammett’s books scored highly was their front covers. The publishers used images of scantily clad women to titillate the reader into buying. It wasn’t blatant sex, and it worked.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Another Daring Cover

I’ve polished up the manuscript for Naked Aggression and now I’m ready to do some serious editing for the next novel in the series, Naked Grief. These books are hard-nosed, gritty crime stories involving an American airline pilot who seems to get himself tangled up in murder wherever he goes in the world.

I’ve aimed to make this series his story. The harsh crime elements are important in providing a mystery to be solved, but they also tell us more about the guy and the way he reacts under pressure. I won’t spoil things by telling you more than that.

Why is he carrying a sack-load of grief in the second book? And what’s he doing in France anyway? And what has that sultry young girl in St Malo got to do with it? The answers will lay everything bare… to quote an expression.


Friday, 29 March 2013

Karin Bachmann

My blog swap with the Swiss writer, Karin Bachmann, can now be viewed on

Karin's post on my blog can still be viewed.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Daring covers

Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler were writers of a bygone age but they knew how to capture a reader’s attention. So did the publishers. The covers of their crime novels invariably featured a partially-dressed sultry young woman in a provocative pose. It was pretty daring stuff for the time, but it sold the books.

I was looking for something similar to advertise my crime novel Naked Aggression. This is what I came up with. It's not exactly provocative because that wouldn't fit with the title, but it's ever so slightly sultry. You can read the opening chapters by logging onto my web site and pretending you are a literary agent.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Karin Bachmann answers thirteen questions about her life as a writer
I’m proud to present a ”blog hop” with the Swiss writer, Karin Bachmann. Karin and I first met at the Swanwick Writers Summer School. We have been interviewing each other and posting the resulting conversations on our blogs. So have a look at Karin’s entry on
The most important question first, Karin. When will your next book come out?
I'm re-writing a children's whodunit with the help of two Swanwick friends and hope to bring it out in time for the Swanwick Writers' Summer School in August. Although, if it goes on at the present pace, it will probably be Christmas before I finish. A crime anthology called "Mord in Switzerland" (Murder in Switzerland) containing stories by 18 Swiss writers, came out in February and is doing well. There are some big names in that book and I'm immensely proud to have been asked to participate. In November, a children's story is scheduled to appear in AQUILA CHILDREN'S MAGAZINE, an acclaimed UK publication for "smart children" (are there any others?).

Why did you begin to write? Was there a specific event that spurred you on?
I was lucky to grow up surrounded by books. My parents are both avid readers and they always read stories to us. I made up my first stories before I could read or write. So it came naturally to start writing them down as soon as I could. At first, they were microscopic ghost stories, but soon after having begun reading Enid Blyton, I wrote my own crime stories. When I was sixteen, Mother asked why I never tried to have anything published. I followed her advice and despite terrible research was lucky enough to find a publisher (SJW-Verlag, Zurich). I was hooked.

What genre do you write?
Usually, I write for the 8-12 children's market. Most of my stories are whodunits/ adventure. There's sometimes a historical element and I've tried writing fantasy, if with little success. I've been lucky with a few adult stories. Three have been published in anthologies (one in the UK, two in Switzerland) and I've had successes in competitions. Most notably a runner-up in the Writing Magazine "Jealousy" short story competition two years ago.

Which do you find more challenging, the process of thinking up a story or the editing?
I completely agree with the 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration theory. If a plot idea grabs me, I can come up with a viable first draft relatively quickly. Yet, as I'm hopeless at planning, it can happen that I have to go back and make earlier happenings in the story fit later ones. I don't like planning too much because I enjoy the characters taking over and surprising me. I always know where to begin and what the end should be like. The rest is navigating in the fog. (My love for that must come from having grown up in the "Bernese Seeland" in Switzerland, which is notorious for its fog.) Two thirds of the work is editing. Thanks to a former editor, who showed me the ropes, I actually enjoy it, although I still think I'm not very good at it. I'm prone to over-writing and then to cutting out too much. What shall I tell you? I'm still learning. Every day, with every text.

Do you have a favourite among your books and why?
With very few exceptions, it's always the latest story I like best. The characters are still with me and very much alive. The sense of accomplishment is fresh and strong. Finishing a story always feels like a victory. If I had to choose a specific story, it would be my second latest children's whodunit for the SJW-Verlag, Zurich, called "Die Zirkusaffäre" (The Circus Mystery). It's a good mix of crime, current issues and humour, and I think I got the editing just right with that one. I've also had great feedback.

How do you fit writing into your daily life?
It can be tricky. As an optician in my "bread-job", I work from 8.15am to 6.30pm. By the time I've come home, cooked dinner and cleaned-up, it's past eight and then I'm often too tired to write. Fortunately, I work only 80% , so I have Sundays, part of Mondays and Thursdays to write. I say part of Mondays because it's my cleaning day. I also teach some English (two to three lessons) and help my Granny with the heavy cleaning, which takes up almost two hours including getting there, back and showering. I use the lunch break on work days to do the shopping, chat a little on Twitter, have a look at Google+ and keep in touch with fellow bloggers. If there's time left, I also do my correspondence and – well – eat. On an ideal writing day, I get up at half past six, have breakfast and after having finished the household chores write for one and a half to two hours. Then I cook myself lunch (which is the main meal of the day in Switzerland). I write for about one and a half to three hours in the afternoon. Every now and again I get up to drink something and stretch because otherwise my back will give up on me. Ideally, I go Nordic Walking for an hour twice a week (although with this long winter, I've been a bit lazy with that). That all sounds incredibly disciplined and like a lot of finished work. But sometimes, on scrolling back over what I've achieved, I discover I've actually only completed two pages. I'm very good at procrastinating, too!

Should you ever consider changing genre, what would you like to write?
I'm a big history buff. Father told me about Greek Mythology and history in general long before I went to school. I loved those hours! And still today I find it hard not to watch documentaries on TV like "Living History" or "Terra X". Already now, there are historical elements in my stories; for example in my latest whodunit called "The Grandmaster's Sword" that's doing the rounds (for non-writers: I'm looking for a publisher or agent for it). The story plays partly in present day Malta, partly during its
past e.g. the Great Siege of 1565. So if I ever changed genre, the new one would be Historical.

Which of your senses is most likely to be involved when there’s a first spark of an idea?
I'm a notorious eavesdropper. I commute to work and, as I don't have a car, use public transport most of the time. The conversations around me are a treasure-trove of ideas. So, for the first spark of a story, I'd say hearing is most important. For writing the first draft, it's sight – or should I say inner-sight – as I imagine the story being played out in front of me and write down what I see.

Are there any writing related events that you go to?
Like you, David, I'm a fervent Swanwicker. A year without the Swanwick Writers' Summer School is not complete. I also try and go to readings and the AGMs and events of the writers' organisations I'm a member of. Apart from the fun, I usually pick up one or the other opportunity. My participating in "Mord in Switzerland", for instance, came as a result of visiting an exhibition on crime in Berne with a few crime writing friends.

Do you belong to any writing related organisations?
Apart from being a Swanwicker, I'm also a member of AdS (Authors of Switzerland, equivalent to the British SoA) , The Writers' association of Canton Bern BSV and AUTILLUS, the Association of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators of Switzerland For the latter, I have the honour of
working in the committee.

How can readers contact you?
I'm always happy to hear from readers via my blog or my publishers SJW-Verlag, Zurich, and Appenzeler Verlag, Herisau,

 How important is reader feedback to you?
Crucial! Without readers there wouldn't be any stories. That's why I love school readings so much. Children are a difficult audience. Adults will follow even the most boring performance because it's "good manners" to stay till the end. Children have no such qualms. They'll show you right away what they think and thus help you to become a better story teller. In the end, that's all I want to be – a story teller.

 What’s your favourite book of all times?
That's a hard one! There are so many great books out there. But having to settle for one, it'll be Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose". It combines two of my passions: crime and history. It's written so well, it draws you into the middle ages within the first two pages and doesn't let you go until the very last one. The reader watches the happenings with growing outrage (being a child of the 20th or 21st century) and yet understands what drives the characters caught in the 14th.  

 Well, Karin, thank you so much for answering my questions. I’m very much looking forward to meeting you again in Swanwick this August.

Sunday, 24 March 2013


In a previous post I mentioned a television series called Last of the Summer Wine. One aspect of the programme that stands out strongly is the writer’s skill in character creation. Or, at least for the three main male characters. Those key male characters in the best years of the series are called Compo, Clegg and Foggy. And they are radically different from each other. Roy Clarke drew them as three old men who make a glorious combination because of the way they rub against each other. Compo is the eternal work-shy scruff, Clegg is the reserved and nervous ex-lino salesman, and Foggy is the over-bearing army corporal given to dreams of glory he never actually achieved. The combination works to perfection and allows for some brilliant dialogue.

So why are all the female characters so alike? Why are they all drawn as harridans? The three main female characters, Nora, Ivy and Pearl are largely interchangeable, like old post-card images of Blackpool boarding house landladies. They shout and harangue the men and given vent to their feelings of superiority over the male sex. The dialogue is brilliantly done, but where is the contrast between the principle female characters that exits between the three old men?

There’s a lesson here for fiction writers. It’s not just your main characters that have to be well drawn… don’t forget the supporting characters.

Friday, 22 March 2013

The Cost of Reading

Ten years ago my novel, A Tangle of Roots, was published in paperback with a price tag of more than £8. It was a POD release. Today, the story has been reissued as The Long Road to Sunrise in Kindle format for £1.96. An example of how technology has made a book purchase very much cheaper. You need an Amazon Kindle to make the download, of course, but the ubiquitous Kindle seems to be everywhere these days. If you have one, use it, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money to buy e-books.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Ebook Publishing

Earlier this week I posted a story on my web site for free download. I figured that at 57,000 words it didn’t fully live up to the title of novel. Neither was I prepared to pad it out simply to make it longer. Padding degrades a story. However, I decided it would make a suitable web site taster: a way of giving readers a taste of my style of writing. The next morning my publisher, God bless her, emailed me and said she had read it, liked it, and wanted to publish it. It made my day. Not so good for my web readers, of course, because I had to immediately remove the story from my site.

My concern about the story was that it was too short to be a proper novel, but my publisher assures me that the advent of ebooks means any length can now be accommodated within the publishing industry. I learned from that. I have another 57,000 word story lying idle on my computer and I need only a week or two to check it over and give it a last brush and polish before offering it up for publication. We live in an age when nothing need be wasted.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Publication Day

Today, 18th March, is official publication day for my Hampton Warlock trilogy. All three books are now up and running as Kindle downloads at £1.96 each. If you are an Amazon Prime customer you can “borrow” the books for free.

There is something inherently frightening as well as satisfying in seeing your work published. It’s a matter of putting your “baby” on view for all the world to see. When we write we put so much of ourselves into our creations that the finished producteven though it’s pure fictionbecomes a part of us. It’s not just the book that goes on show, it’s also the reputation and the soul of the writer. I imagine artists feel the same about their paintings.

Years ago I ran courses in presentational skills. I taught the candidates that there are few more frightening experiences than standing up in front of an audience to deliver a presentation. Why? Because we put ourselves on show when speaking in public and we fear disapproval especially public disapprovalif we get it wrong. And it is so easy to get something wrong when you create a novel of 100,000 words.

My main reassurance lies in having all my books taken on by a publisher. I mention on my web site ( that I avoided self-publication on the grounds that my work probably wasn’t good enough if a publisher didn’t like it. Publishers have liked my books.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Gritty Side of Life

In a previous post I mentioned that Dashiell Hammett had a problem with drink. So did Raymond Chandler. In 1932 he was fired from his job with an oil company because of his alcoholism. That was when he set out to be the writer he always wanted to be. He wanted to write about American life. Not the cosy version beloved of romance writers, but the real, tension-riddled version that turned everyday existence into unhappiness. He found his voice in crime novels and his most famous creation: Philip Marlowe. Marlowe did for Chandler what Sam Spade did for Hammett. Both writers found their voice writing about the gritty, seamy side of life they knew to be more real than any cosy romance. In writing about their world as they saw it, they were true to themselves.

Why do I tell you this? Am I about to admit to being an alcoholic? No, certainly not. I keep my taste for a decent wine strictly under control. One glass with a meal and that’s it.  But I do have a taste for writing about the grittier side of life. The problem is that I live in a place where a lot of decent, law abiding elderly people live in relative comfort. For most of them, serious crime means putting recyclable waste into their ordinary dustbins. So I have to draw upon previous experiences in order to find harsh backgrounds for my stories.

In 1968 I finished my air traffic control basic training and I was posted to Belfast Airport. As a very junior controller on the bottom step of the pay ladder, I lived in a very downbeat part of the city: rows of back-to-back red-brick terraces. Coronation Street without the charm. Within a year that part of Belfast would erupt into violence. I was later posted to a radar station in glorious countryside thirty miles south of Belfast, within sight of the Mourne Mountains. Even there I saw the effects of the Northern Irish troubles at first hand. I saw an otherwise beautiful countryside brought to its knees. I looked out from my own home and saw bombs explode. I saw buildings torn apart. Buy me a pint of beer and I’ll tell you the tale of how I was once mistaken for an IRA brigade leader. Amongst the seemingly endless catalogue of atrocities, I experienced the same fear all decent Irish people felt. And that is a gritty way of life I can now write about.

Why? Why write about something most people want to forget? Well, I write about it because most English people don’t understand what it was like. How could they? They read the odd newspaper article about it, but that doesn’t have the same effect as becoming emotionally tangled with the lives of characters from a novel. Even a well-researched article will not delve deep enough into the intimacies of people’s lives. So I tell it as I once saw it and I create a gritty world of tension and fear just as Chandler did so many years ago.

If you want to know how I saw things back in those violent times, try reading The Gallows on Warlock Hill. In that story I created a character who was, on the surface, a wicked girl. Over the course of the novel I aimed to show that, deep down, she wasn’t bad at all. She was simply a victim of her circumstances. And, therein, lay the universal truth I wanted to portray: so many Irish people who lived through those terrible days were victims, not criminals. Gallows is now available for download from Amazon and you can try the opening chapter free on But I should warn you: it is every bit as gritty as any Hammett or Chandler novel.


In Della’s class we were discussing the subject of “voice” in a novel. The topic centred on the author’s writing voice, not the characters’ dialogue idiom. We spent some time on what was meant by writer’s voice. My own definition of voice is quite simply put: it is the way of writing which identifies that writer with his/her work. Other people have their own definitions and it’s worth studying them.

Had we been discussing art we would have had little difficulty in understanding the concept of recognising the way different artists portray the world, each in his or her own unique styles. We can all recognise an L S Lowry when we see it. He painted in oils like thousands of other artists, but he had a very distinctive painting voice.

By the same token, there is something inherently distinctive in the writing voice of (say) Dashiell Hammett. Had The Maltese Falcon been written by Agatha Christie it would have taken on a very different voice, a very different way of putting the story across. And yet both authors wrote crime novels, so it’s not a matter of genre. It’s a matter of voice.

I suspect that a writer’s voice, especially a good strong voice, comes from deep within the psyche. People who have studied Hammett’s work think he saw his own face in Sam Spade, even though he could never have lived up to Spade’s behaviour. Spade was a strong character. Hammett was bedevilled by heavy drinking and debt as well as poor health. Was Spade the alter ego Hammett would like to have been? It seems likely. If so it was an alter ego that captured the attention of the reading public. And Spade helped Hammett develop a very strong writing voice.

Friday, 15 March 2013

More of the Same

There is a real attraction in writing novels that are ‘more of the same’. Think of Catherine Cookson and you know exactly what you are going to get. It’s good for the publisher and good for the writer because they know there is a market ready to be exploited. And the reader can be sure of what she/he is buying. In short, it’s good marketing practice.

But it’s also like setting up a cafe in which every item on the menu is just like every other. There’s no variety. The customer can order any meal at all and it will look and taste very similar. That might suit some diners, but not all.

I wrote three books which I call my Hampton Warlock trilogy. The main characters in each novel live in the same small Dorset village. (see But the stories differ from one another in almost every aspect. That was deliberate. I don’t want people to think of me as a one-genre writer. I want my readers to experience different emotions within the trilogy:  sometimes thrilling excitement, sometimes compassion, sometimes romantic joy, sometimes anger at the behaviour of the villains. My key characters differ radically:  the girl searching for her ancestry, the priest who left the church, the husband whose wife holds a terrible secret. Their only link is the village they call home. And the plots differ. One is centred on the history of conflict between England and Ireland. Another tells the tale of a child given up for adoption. The third explores the Second World War and its lasting effects through the experiences of one family.

So, which do you opt for? More of the same, or variety? In my view, there is room for both policies, but I prefer a touch of variety. Maybe I’ve been lucky in that none of my publishers have asked me for more of the same.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

More on Dialogue

One of my all-time favourite comedy films is called Getting Sam Home. It’s a feature length episode from Last of the Summer Wine. In one scene Sam is being driven home from hospital in a fish and chip van. Pondering on his imminent death, he takes a puff on a cigarette and says, “What about me ashes?”
          “Flick ’em on the floor, why don’t you,” replies Norman Clegg.

A southerner like myself would be more likely to say, “Why don’t you flick ’em on the floor.” Exactly the same words, but in a different sequence. It’s an example of how the use of words - the idiom - can define the speaker: northerner or southerner. And it works as well on the written page as it does on the television screen.

Use of dialect or idiom does, of course, require the writer to have an appreciation of the way people speak in different parts of the UK. I find it helps if I can imagine in my mind a person from that region speaking my dialogue. Does it sound real? If not, why not?

You need to be careful not to overdo it. In The Gallows on Warlock Hill, twin sisters meet for the first time as adults. One has a southern counties English accent. The other grew up in Belfast. Their speech would, in reality, differ considerably. I chose to use one word as a way of defining the Irish girl’s speech. I had her say “yous” instead of “you.” That was little more than a hint to tell the reader about her way of speaking, but I think it worked.

Monday, 11 March 2013

What’s in a Computer?

My computer suffered a cardiac arrest and I had to take it back to the manufacturer’s operating theatre. Fortunately the surgeon was able to resuscitate the machine while I waited. We think of computers as modern devices, but the word ‘computer’ predates the modern electronic machine by a long way.

I was reading David Crystal’s thoroughly enjoyable book By Hook or by Crook. In it he tells us that the word ‘computer’ comes from the Latin ‘computare’ meaning to sum up. The word existed as a verb in sixteenth century France, but didn’t cross over into English until 1631. It is first recorded as a noun in 1641 meaning one who computes. The mechanical computer didn’t arrive until 1897.

Before I joined the National Air Traffic Control Service I spent two years working in accountancy. It wasn’t the right job for me, which is why I eventually moved on to pastures new. When I started trying to get to grips with accountancy, in the early nineteen sixties, I was given a mechanical desk-top computer. It was a solidly made device with a bank of metal levers and a handle at the side. Computing figures meant setting the levers to appropriate values and turning the handle an appropriate number of times: a far cry from my current desktop computer. It’s major plus point was that it never broke down.



Sunday, 10 March 2013


Della has been teaching us the use of dialogue in fiction writing. It’s a fascinating subject because dialogue gets caught between two stools. Make it absolutely accurate and it will be boring or incomprehensible. Make it grammatically perfect and it will be unreal.

Accurate but boring? Yes. Try listening to a real conversation and then imagine it committed to a page exactly as spoken.
          “Hello, Myra. How are you keeping?”
          “Oh, not so bad. Me feet are still playin’ up, like I told you, you remember? Saw the doctor again last week. Such a long time you ’ave to wait, don’t you? Told me to rest up more, ee did. Mind you, I could tell you about restin’ up.....”

Are you still awake? That is so boring, and yet so very real.

What about accurate but incomprehensible? Well, most people in these islands speak a dialect of English, using words, expressions and accents that vary from place to place. There are times when those dialects can be difficult for a stranger to follow. In an age of mass communication it sometimes surprises me that I can see a member of the public interviewed on a news broadcast.... and be totally baffled by what is being said. Sometimes I feel I need the speaker to slow down so that I can assimilate the dialogue, but the speaker is rattling off the words at a rate of knots. I switch on the subtitles and it also is confused to the point of putting up garbage on my screen.

Clearly it would be unwise to use extreme regional idioms exactly as they are spoken. They need to be modified, tweaked, retaining the essence of the dialect while also being made easier to understand. In other words, the dialogue needs a spot of editing.

At the same time, the writer should steer clear of dialogue that is BBC perfect when writing about regional characters. Imagine this: a man walks into a shop.
          “Good morning. I wish to make a formal complaint about my purchase.”
“Yes sir. What was wrong with your purchase?”
“It does not meet with the standards portrayed upon the packaging. In particular, the contents within the outer wrapping fall well below the legal limit. I believe I am due some form of redress.”

That is grammatically correct but, especially in a regional setting. it doesn’t work on the printed page. Let’s try again. A man walks into a shop.
“Ere, you can’t get away with this!”
“What’s wrong, sir?”
“It’s this pie, innit? No bloody meat inside. All bloody pastry, innit? I want me money back.”

Boring? No. Comprehensible? Yes. Realistic? Totally.

Saturday, 9 March 2013


I work closely with someone who has a very deep insight into research practices. Her knowledge has helped many writers ensure that they make the very best efforts to get their facts right. My readers know that my novels have been set in varying parts of the UK from Cornwall to the Hebrides. I try to ensure that I am geared up to the backgrounds of those varying locations. As a consequence I tend to store away in my head odd bits of interesting information.
I was surprised, therefore, when I heard someone mention in a group conversation that the languages of the Celts are all the same, from Brittany to the Shetland Islands. I didn’t want to contradict him in public (a) because I didn’t want to embarrass him and (b) because I didn’t want to look like a know-it-all.

But I'll tell you.
First of all, the Shetlanders are of Danish descent and their language has Norse origins. Secondly, within these islands we have two Celtic language divisions: Brythoic which comes from old British and includes Welsh, Cornish and Breton. And then there is the Goidelic Celtic language which includes Irish and Scottish Gaelic as well as Manx. The languages can be very similar, but only within their groups. My wife is Irish and tells of her first days on a Hebridean island when she overheard two local women in a shop discussing her in Scottish Gaelic. She said nothing, knowing they thought she was English, until she was about to leave the shop. Then she smiled and greeted them in her Irish Gaelic, which they fully understood. Red faces followed her exit.
It isn’t just a matter of research, of course. Research is essential but it’s not the whole story. I like to write about places I have known, places where I have lived. I try to describe them as I saw them and experienced them. That is not always the way other people saw those places. I believe that a writer should be true to his own judgements. A scene painted in words that come from the writer’s heart is always going to be more vivid than a generalised description pulled down from the internet. I am in contact with someone who wrote a book about Finland, including descriptions that provoked a national debate. But the book turned into an international best seller. I suggest its success is largely due to the personal honesty of the writing.

So, the message is: do your research, but be true to yourself.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Guest Blogging

When the owner of the Womag blog asked me to write a guest post I felt genuinely privileged. This wasn’t a case of a member of the public asking something of me. I was approached by the writer of a well-respected internet site: someone who knows what writing is all about. She asked me to write about me reasons for being a novellist rather than a short story writer. You can read my response at:

There is a wealth of short story writing ability behind the Womag blog, ability I have seen in action through the manuscripts that writers and readers have produced. While they have developed and used their short story writing skills to very good effect, I have concentrated on honing my novel writing ability. I see that as no problem because the world of writing needs both skills. We need books and we need magazine stories. The single big black forest gateau is just as important as the tube of Smarties. Well, that’s my opinion. Henry, my three year old grandson would say the Smarties are more important!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Belinda Blurb

Publication day is not far off now. We have been rehashing the blurb for The Gallows on Warlock Hill. My first effort wasn't right. It concentrated too much on the wrong part of the story. Which part? Never mind which part. It was the wrong part. The publisher quite rightly asked for a new blurb.

Did you know that the word blurb goes back to the year 1907? An American humour writer called Gelett Burgess didn't like the cover his publisher used on one of his books. He wanted something slightly saucy, so be drew a character he called Belinda Blurb. She's been with us ever since.

I had to give some thought to the new blurb for my book. It had to capture a potential reader's imagination while, at the same time giving a very broad overview of the story. Few words but big impact. Not easily done. I cast my mind over the idea of Belinda Blurb. She was presented as the sort of sultry female who often appeared on the cover of a lurid paperback. Her role was to excite the reader's imagination. My few words had to do the same thing... excite the reader into buying the book. Instead of a sultry seductress, I used the idea of character conflict. Sparks fly between two sisters. But one needs the other in order to stay alive. Will they sort it out? I also introduced a hint of mystery. Who… why… get the reader guessing and wanting to know the answer.

I'm pleased to say that the publisher is happy with my new blurb. All that remains is to find out how many potential customers are captured by the Belinda Blurb effect.

Monday, 4 March 2013

The Oxford Comma

Did you know that yesterday was National Grammar Day? Neither did I until I read it on the internet. The article concerned itself with the Oxford Comma: the one that can be used – or not used – after the ‘and’ at the end of a list. It’s a matter of whether you write: “Fish, chips, and peas,” or “Fish, chips and peas.” That last comma – so we’re told – is the Oxford Comma, traditionally used by the Oxford University Press. It’s an element of grammar that some people use while others don’t. And therein lies the problem. Who is right?

Personally, I choose not use it. The grammar that bugs me most is the Grocer’s Apostrophe. That’s the one that tells you “Apple’s and Pear’s” are on display. It also tells you, “Your fired.” It’s the apostrophe that gets in where it shouldn’t and gets missed out where it should appear. Why do so many people get it wrong?

Then again, am I wrong to be pedantic about the Grocer’s Apostrophe while being complacent about the Oxford Comma?

Friday, 1 March 2013


Earlier today I was chatting with my writing friend, Graham and the discussion came around to the subject of inspiration. We were both agreed on writing being a matter of one per-cent inspiration and ninety-nine per-cent perspiration. But that one per-cent is crucial to the end product. I liken it to the match used to set fire to a huge bonfire. The match is so small in relation to the bonfire, but without it nothing will burn. So it is with that spark of inspiration that sets a writer on the path of creating another novel. Without it, there will be no novel.